On average, car buyers spend an average of 13 hours, 55 minutes researching and shopping for a vehicle, according to a Cox Automotive study. And most of that time isn’t spent at the dealership — the same study found that 61% of those hours and minutes are spent online.
Years ago, “online” meant visiting the dealer’s or automaker’s website. Today, it more likely means third-party information sites such as Cars.com or Kelley Blue Book, as well as social media. Car shoppers want to know everything about a car they are considering — plus they value what others are saying about the car, which is why they’ve turned to social channels for key info.
The shift toward social media demands car dealerships be more active on the channels that their personas love — but it also presents a way to expand your marketing efforts and captivate leads on their home turf. And if you don’t give prospects the info they want, someone else will.
The importance of social media for car dealerships
Car dealerships face competition from online sellers that provide everything a buyer needs to know about every car in stock. Today, someone can purchase a vehicle without ever setting foot on the lot — they’ll conduct their research, compare options, and even pay online, with their only interaction with the dealership coming when they show up to take possession of the keys and the car.
Even with people buying from traditional dealerships, the digital age has permanently changed the game. As already alluded to, many buyers conduct all their research on a particular car or brand online and visit the dealership simply to buy. Although that consumer behavior still results in a sale, it decreases the number of people coming to browse, or who are undecided, or who are close to a decision but need a nudge toward making the purchase.
Newspapers were once a stalwart in dealerships’ marketing campaigns, but fewer people read newspapers, and the Saturday or Sunday automotive section has mostly disappeared in all but the major markets. Television advertising remains an option, but with more people — especially millennials and the emerging Generation Z — preferring to stream content, reach has become an issue.
Dealership websites once were viewed as a way to engage consumers, but that’s not even a given anymore. Although blogs and other updatable content can keep your site fresh, in the automotive space, when someone is thinking about buying a car, they tend to first look to sources other than a dealership’s URL for information. They might eventually get to your website … or they might click on another dealer whose website came up on a search. In other words, a nice website is no guarantee of attracting and enthralling visitors.
In this new marketing environment, dealerships must expand their strategies to connect with the modern consumer. Social media offers this connection. Through paid social, people see ads on the channels they frequent. And through the dealership’s own pages and handles, leads not only are exposed to the brand and news but also can interact and build a relationship that pays off down the road.
The benefits of great campaigns
Social media has long passed just being a novelty for consumers. People rely on social channels such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube for product and sales information. An active social strategy is more than just keeping up — the opportunities are practically endless to reach new leads, draw people to your dealership, and increase sales. Among the benefits:
- Mobility: In 2020, 3.8 billion people use social media, according to We Are Social, and 91% of social media users access channels through smartphones and other mobile devices, per Lyfe Marketing. For car dealerships, this mobility means that prospects may consume your social content anywhere, at any time, and also allows for connections to occur while leads are out and about — for example, a Facebook ad touting a weekend sale may spur a Saturday shopper to stop by the lot.
- Access: As already stated, consumers may not think to directly visit a dealership’s website but may take notice of an ad during a YouTube video or a post on their Twitter feeds. Social media campaigns open up your marketing to a segment of prospects who don’t have you on their radar.
- Data: Accurately tracking the effectiveness of traditional marketing channels has always been a challenge — do you really know if the lead who just walked in saw a newspaper ad, heard about you on the radio, or randomly just drove by? Social media campaigns are measurable from start to finish, proving effectiveness (or a lack thereof) and informing strategy.
- A human touch: Dealership websites, though important, still remind the visitor that salespeople await, which for some leads is a turnoff. Social media posts create a more personal, lower-pressure engagement that makes people feel like part of the process rather than a target.
- Sharing: Social media facilitates users sharing content with others — and if that content is connected to you (say, a video you post of a family getting the keys to a new minivan on your lot), leads and customers are contributing to expanding your reach.
Social media strategies for car dealerships
Social media campaigns for car dealerships can be divided into two categories: organic and paid. Organic is simply posting content to your channels — videos, stories, updates, and anything else that will be visible on a follower’s feed or on your channel page when directly visited. Some strategies for this approach include:
- Instagram Stories: Stories on Instagram — and, to a lesser extent, Facebook and YouTube — are a hot marketing trend. They are easy to create, and people are more likely to engage with them than other social media. Stories are perfect to introduce new vehicles in stock, give updates from sales and community engagement events, and simply keep a continual presence on subscribers’ apps.
- Video: With so many car shoppers searching for vehicle information on YouTube and other channels, posting video on social media helps steer those people to your content and your brand for such information. YouTube is the obvious channel to feature videos, but Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter may also be used for shorter clips. For special events, consider live video to alert and entice followers to see what’s happening at your dealership — and hopefully come see for themselves.
- Photos: The rise of Instagram with millennials and Generation Z confirms that simple photos can make an impact with car shoppers. Unlike Stories, which disappear in a day, pictures stay on Instagram and other channels as long as you want, so leads can visit your account and check out photos of vehicles they might be interested in.
- Engaging followers: Not every social media post needs a sales motive behind it (even if, ultimately, there is one …). Conversations with your followers, highlights from community events, profiles of employees, that family of squirrels living in the tree outside your office — anything that appeals to prospects is a potential post. This will keep people interested in your business, and perhaps they’ll start sharing your content even when they aren’t in the market for a car.
- Ask for reviews: Today’s online consumer takes reviews seriously. The more favorable comments they see about your dealership on social media (as well as review sites such as Google and Yelp), the more confident they’ll be in learning more about what you can do for them.
- Facebook Marketplace: Dealerships are allowed to post used-car listings on Facebook Marketplace, thus opening their inventory to a vast pool of users, and also enabling direct chats with potential buyers.
Organic social media should follow a consistent schedule in order to be effective. Posting five posts one week and none the next becomes too unpredictable for followers. Of course, there might be some weeks in which you’ll be posting more than others — for example, during a year-end sale — but take care not to ignore your channels once the sale is over.
Paid social tips for car dealerships
Paid social buys sponsored content and ads that appear on the channels you know your audience is active on. It doesn’t require as much effort as posting organically to social media, but it does come with a cost-per-click (CPC) price. That shouldn’t necessarily be a deterrent, because paid social can prove quite effective in reaching an audience that is ignoring traditional marketing channels — but it does mean the strategy should provide a good ROI.
Here are a few paid social strategies to consider for your dealership:
- Appealing ads: Social media ads have just a few seconds to resonate with the viewer before being tuned out, closed, or skipped. Therefore, write ads with compelling, direct copy; use impactful visuals and photos; and get to your point quickly with video ads.
- Place a pixel: Embed a Facebook pixel on your homepage so that when people visit your website, they’ll be retargeted with your paid ads on Facebook. Similarly, Google remarketing sends relevant ads to YouTube viewers based on their search engine and website behavior.
- Choose channels wisely: Facebook placement settings let you customize where your ads will appear. Based on data and the kind of vehicles being sold — for example, Lincolns and Buicks could be a harder sell to millennials on Instagram — you should adjust your ads to where they will deliver the most clicks.
Finding the ROI
A 2018 Outsell survey found that car dealerships overspend on marketing initiatives without realizing a return on investment. Throwing more money into marketing isn’t necessarily the answer, but more effectively using your budget and measuring what’s working and delivering ROI definitely helps. Social media should be a big part of that effort, not only because how much you spend can be tailored to your goals and budget, but also because it’s where a big segment of potential leads is looking to connect with you.
That said, traditional marketing channels that have served dealerships well haven’t disappeared — and their effectiveness can be more accurately measured with call tracking and robust attribution reporting. Read our e-book, The Automotive Guide to Call Tracking, to learn more.